► DB11 vs Conti GT comparison
► Our long-termers get let off the leash
► Goodwood's historic circuit is the backdrop
In the height of summer and with the coronavirus lockdown easing, editor Ben Miller and digital editorial director Tim Pollard met up at the Goodwood circuit to reignite an old British rivalry in their respective long-term Aston Martin DB11 AMR and Bentley Continental GT V8. Read on for some sun, car spotting and good, old-fashioned head-to-head.
Read our Aston Martin DB11 AMR long-term test
Read our Bentley Continental GT V8 long-term test
In motorsport the miraculous properties of adrenaline are well documented. Remember Martin Brundle's air crash-style off into the gravel trap at Melbourne, back in '96? After emerging unscathed from his upside-down, bent-in-half Jordan, Brundle opted not for the obvious course of action – a little lie down in a cool, dark room and an early flight home. Instead he jogged down the pitlane to a standing ovation more last night of the proms than first Grand Prix of the season, hopped into the spare car and took to the grid ready for the re-start. And let's not even get into motorcycle racing, which has a long and morally dubious history of pumping injured racers with drugs and macho bravado before sending them out to race so physically broken they sometimes require helping into the saddle.
Less dramatically, this morning adrenaline – in combination with the legendary curves of the Goodwood motor circuit and the equally legendary curves of my Aston Martin DB11 AMR – is working to eradicate the nerves that have, for a day or two now, been restlessly fluttering around my tummy. It would be odd if taking to the track in a £210k car didn't make you feel a little apprehensive but, just as Brundle heroically put being launched upside-down into the scenery from his mind and raced, I'm managing to put the DB11's eye-watering value out of my mind and drive the Aston as it was meant to be driven.
Out of the chicane, kiss the outside kerb because it feels good and then hold the twin-turbo V12 flat-out. What. A. Noise. No castrato naturally-aspirated shriek here but a deeply satisfying multi-faceted racket that speaks of serious mechanical effort.
Third, fourth, fifth... Don't look at the speedo, just the braking markers. Brake – progressively initially, to settle that nose on its springs – and drop back to fourth gear for Goodwood's first corner, a long sweeping right. Wait, wait, wait... Like the overwhelming urge to grab that last scone on the afternoon tea stand, the temptation to turn in early is enormous. Don't; wait. Then roll the car in, look for a nice late apex and then bring the V12 back in, looking to build on your already significant apex speed just as soon as you can. Then you're done, charging off towards Fordwater while simultaneously trying to stay focused and drink it all in.
This, I'm thankfully aware of now rather than years later, is one of those moments – one of those snapshots in time that'll burn bright and vivid even when I'm old and confused and interested only in test matches on the radio and what's for lunch.
But what use is a day of days if you've no one to share it with? On hand to pinch me and remind me that this – a sun-kissed trackday at Goodwood, with two unapologetically British performance cars to enjoy and a paddock full of like-minded individuals with whom to marvel at our good fortune – is Tim Pollard, his Bentley drawing almost as many admiring glances as my Skyfall Silver DB11.
After months of lockdown inactivity, Tim enjoyed the long drive down from Lincolnshire first thing this morning far more than anyone might reasonably be expected to enjoy a 4.30am alarm.
'The Conti's a good car day-to-day, but it's journeys like that one this morning that remind you it's a truly great one over longer distances,' says Tim over coffee ahead of the driver briefing. 'It is so quiet, so refined. And the fabulous massage seats, together with the awesome stereo and a truly beautiful interior – your Aston's is pretty ordinary by comparison – make hours at the wheel a pleasure. It's just so relaxing.'
Tim's right about the Bentley's cockpit, of course – it's a newer car, shaped by a different, more luxury-orientated brief. But while his 4x4 GT might have been the car to have for this morning's drive down (during which we both set new economy records; a heady 30.2mpg for the Conti, 27 for the V12 Aston), now that we're here it's a different story...
Goodwood runs trackdays like it runs its beloved events, the Festival of Speed and Revival: slickly, with a keen eye on immaculate period presentation and with a flair for feelgood touches (like a splendid packed lunch, included). The driver briefing's hugely reassuring given the value of the machinery lined up to go out. The groups will be small, silliness snuffed out mercilessly and a courteous, Mike Hawthorn-esque approach to sportsmanlike conduct keenly encouraged.
With track running underway, Tim heads out to make like Birkin in his Bentley while I wander the paddock. Eclectic doesn't begin to cover it. The first car to grab my attention is a Renault hatchback, despite it being in a queue with half a dozen GT Porsches – 911 GT3 RS, Boxster Spyder, couple of Cayman GT4s – a Ferrari 458 Speciale and a Tesla Model X. Yep, a Tesla.
Ben Pocock's near-standard (braided brakes lines, uprated fluid) and immaculate R26 R is a thing of beauty, from its carbon bonnet to its reassuring rollcage. 'I bought it from a friend who had it from new – he needed the money for a deposit on a 997-gen 911 GT3 RS. The Renault's covered 9000 miles, mostly on track, and it's good fun. It's so light, grippy and nicely balanced that most of the lap here is taken with the throttle to the floor... That tweaked 400bhp Golf R estate is also mine, and the two do similar lap times in completely different ways.'
With that it's Ben's turn on track and I find myself drawn to a couple of spectacular Aston Martins. One, a manual (thankfully – the single-clutch auto version was awful) Vantage GT8, Aston's slower, more expensive but arguably more special GT3 RS rival, oozes endurance racer chic. And in stark contrast there's Bob Searles and his brutal, thuggish DBS V8 racer, a car he used to campaign (Searles has raced plenty of stuff in his time, including Group C cars) and has pulled from the mothballs today for a bit of fun. Shatteringly loud (Bob's having to lift for some of Goodwood's noise meters) and gut-churningly quick, it is – Bob maintains – a pussycat to drive. Rather him than me.
Tim purrs back into the pits, all gummy rubber, hot brakes and bug-smeared bodywork. As he kills the Continental's engine, the words come out like a fire hose.
'This place is super fast, with some properly tricky corners... No wonder the racing's always so good at the Revival. The 15-minute sessions are about right, I'd say. You're just starting to work things out and build your speed when it's time to come in – probably a good thing. And there's something magical about being on the same circuit that you normally come here to spectate at. I mean, you can watch the cricket at Lord's or the football at Anfield easily enough but you can't so easily play on those grounds.'
And how's the Bentley?
'It's impressive how such a big car can be tautened up on track. It doesn't feel out of its depth, though the car's weight is always there. It's nowhere near as playful as your DB11. The steering in particular is much more inert, lacking the AMR's agility and pointiness.'
After a brief session in Tim's Bentley (an armchair after the Aston, though the all-wheel drive traction and mighty torque mean you get back on the power virtually at the apex, so you quickly reach some enormous speeds), I drop back into the AMR and, like the pathetic 21st century creature I am, prod the air-con up a notch.
Our group quickly spreads out, leaving me and the Aston free of distractions. On a warm, dry circuit, and with a fresh pair of tyres on the rear axle, the DB11 is transformed. Back in the spring, on cold, wet roads, the engine constantly overwhelmed the available grip. And then, as the weather improved, the worn rear rubber meant rear-axle grip didn't follow suit in any meaningful way.
But today, both on the drive down and now, on the impossibly quick and graceful Goodwood circuit, the AMR is mesmerising. With the dampers cycled through to Sport+, roll is well controlled, leaving just enough body movement to act as another line of communication between me and the car. (The AMR, despite its track-derived aesthetic, still runs a pretty soft road-biased chassis set-up.)
Feed that bonnet into corners with the neat, accurate steering, lean on the generous lateral grip mid-corner, then bring the power in quickly and cleanly. Thankfully, the back-and-forth ebb and flow of grip as you work the V12 against the rear tyres is communicated with real clarity. Then slingshot out onto the next straight, the engine finally revelling in having the space it needs.
Day to day the V12 feels excessive, gluttonous, pointless. Here, today, it's magnificent – a machine in its element. Something mid-engined, from Germany or Italy (or Norfolk) may well be more agile but, being British, front-engined, V12-powered and beautiful, like some kind of land-locked Spitfire, the Aston feels like the perfect car for Goodwood.
And the Bentley? The perfect car for the drive home. Swap, Tim?
Goodwood: the coronavirus fightback
The Covid-related cancellation of Goodwood’s headline 2020 events has had a devastating impact on finances. In response, it set-up SpeedWeek in the middle of October 2020, combining elements of the Revival (the awesome RAC TT for big-capacity GT cars), the Festival of Speed (timed runs and new-car reveals) and the Members’ Meeting (the Gerry Marshall Trophy for ’70s Touring Cars) in a behind-closed-doors, streamed-via-social-media extravaganza.
Goodwood is promoting the Supporter’s Association, the body that helped bring racing back to the circuit. Various packages available, with money helping Goodwood through this toughest of years.
A Goodwood trackday costs from £160 for half a day on one of the circuit’s quiet days (98dB). A full quiet day is £310. Noisy (105dB) days – if you’re in doubt, book a noisy day – cost £180 for half a day, or £349 for a full day. Find out more here.
Aston Martin DB11 long-termer: specs
Price £178,495 (£209,350 as tested)
Performance 5204cc twin-turbo V12, 630bhp, 3.7sec 0-62mph, 208mph
Efficiency 24.8mpg (official), 19.5mpg (tested), 265g/km CO2
Bentley Continental GT V8: specs
Price £151,800 (£194,345 as tested)
Performance 3996cc twin-turbo V8, 542bhp, 3.9sec 0-60mph, 198mph
Efficiency 23.9mpg (official), 26.1mpg (tested), 268g/km CO2